I thought I’d post this before the Barbican’s Bauhaus exhibition opens, so it doesn’t seem too fuelled by the excitement of the moment. Because for years I’ve fantasised about what a Bauhaus for the 21st century would be like.
I don’t think I’ve written about this before because sometimes it’s a faintly embarrassing fantasy. I have friends who teach in art and design schools, full-time or occasionally, and given my last contact with such institutions (a few life-drawing classes aside) was two decades ago, I don’t feel best placed to decide what’s needed. Or even if it is needed.
There’s also the danger that this fantasy seems like a form of nostalgia. In fact, a doubled nostalgia, both for the least troublesome bits of utopian early-20th century Modernism, and for my own youth when I first got excited about this stuff.
Having protected myself with a shield of caveats, I still find myself wondering about such a place today and what it would be. I’m not interested in simply reanimating the Bauhaus’s corpse, but perhaps using the skeleton and replacing its Euclidean organs and leathery Weimar flesh with 21st century alternatives. We have the technology.
Maybe, even, the Bauhaus isn’t the model, but simply an inspiration. I like the idea of combining many art and design disciplines into a single way of thinking and crafting, and of being forward-looking and modern (whatever that means at the time). Don’t study “graphic design” or “information experience design” or whatever; study “design”.
While focused vocational training is great for some people, in a world where tools and materials and processes change so quickly, I see this place as somewhere for giving people a framework on which to build their 50+ year careers. If you only want to learn how to use Illustrator really well, then just practice, go and do it! Knowing what to teach is difficult, and I tend towards wanting people to learn everything. People rarely say students should learn less of something, only that they should study more of this subject or that topic. Thinking about should be taught, and what shouldn’t, is, at least, a fun game.
Also, I like the idea of being above the educational treadmills of grades, and league tables, and the problems of larger institutions, and all that stuff of which I am happily ignorant. The grade I got at university (never mind A-Level grades) has never been important — it’s all about what you can do, and how you think, and how you work.
This wouldn’t be for everyone. Most students will always want the reassurance of an established institution, the focus of a narrow field of study, and the seal of a recognised grade. But there must be some willing to take a risk and learn more, and learn differently.
Although higher education, like so much else, is having a hard time these days I do wonder, with my naive optimism, if that presents opportunities. It’s bad that most students in the UK now have to pay for standard higher education. But, on the other hand, maybe this helps level the playing field for smaller, non-accredited institutions that have always have had to charge fees. Now the financial difference between the two is smaller. LISPA, for example, where I studied theatre a few years ago, is small and non-accredited, and charges several thousand pounds a year. Now that standard higher education costs up to £9,000 a year, it seems more of a bargain. I’m guessing that this is part of the reason an institution like the New College of the Humanities can get underway with fees of £18,000 per annum. Now it’s “only” twice the norm.
If you’ve found this naive handwaving interesting, please do write your thoughts up somewhere, or just get in touch. I’d love to talk about this stuff with people who have experience of design education and who, when they’ve finished laughing or sighing wearily, can tell me where I’m wrong or, maybe, right. Thanks.